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'Unfriended' review: Cyber scares that are clever and funny

A scene from "Unfriended."

A scene from "Unfriended." Credit: AP / Universal Pictures

A dead high schooler haunts her classmates in "Unfriended," a horror film that tells an age-old story with a technological twist. No, this isn't one of those "found footage" movies -- that's yesterday's craze. "Unfriended" unfolds entirely on the screen of one girl's Macintosh laptop. Told in real time using Skype, Facebook, online chatting and texting, "Unfriended" is surely the first horror film whose heroine is played by both an actress and a cursor.

The hot topic of cyberbullying provides "Unfriended" with its premise. One year ago, someone posted a humiliating video of Laura Barns (Heather Sossaman) on the Internet, and after a flood of cruel comments the girl killed herself. On the anniversary of Laura's death, her close friend Blaire (Shelley Hennig) is home doing nothing much -- enjoying a little video foreplay with her boyfriend, Mitch (Moses Storm), and yakking on a Skype group call with her crew -- when an unidentified avatar claiming to be Laura appears on her screen. "Something," Blair types to Mitch, "is srsly wrong."

"Unfriended" follows the familiar slasher-film body-count, as Blaire's friends are steadily reduced in number. They are the usual types -- cocky Adam (Will Peltz), dope-vaping Ken (Jacob Wysocki), the fashionistas Val and Jess (Courtney Halverson and Renee Olstead) -- all played by energetic and enjoyable young actors. There is some teen drama as dark secrets rise to the surface; an especially funny sequence involves the truth-or-dare game Never Have I Ever. And as usual in the horror genre, sexuality will be punished.

What's new in "Unfriended" is not the message but the medium -- or is it a medium within a medium? The movie is a hilariously accurate replica of the average computer screen, crammed with multiple windows, icons, eerily frozen video frames and even the occasional pop-up ad, all punctuated by screams and the occasional geyser of blood.

If anything, "Unfriended" is more intellectually stimulating than genuinely scary. Then again, the movie might be much scarier viewed on a computer screen.

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